Imagine packing up and moving to a foreign country, say China for example, and beginning a two-year full time MBA program. All your classes are in Chinese, your books are in Chinese, three out of the five team members in your group are from China, you live in an apartment in a city that you don’t know, your best friends are going to bed when you’re waking up, and your mom and dad are literally on the other side of the planet. To say you’re a little homesick is an understatement.
In class you can follow along, but struggle with complicated concepts like economics and organizational behavior, since although you can speak and understand the language, your level of vocabulary doesn’t include all the technical jargon from business, law and medicine. In meetings you sometimes feel lost and don’t understand all the idioms, slang and inside jokes from the native speakers in your group. To top it all off, you attend the career fair and find out that only six out of the fifty employers represented will even take your resume since you’re not a Chinese citizen. You wish you had time to enjoy the night life, but studying for classes takes twice as long since you have to constantly reference your English-Chinese dictionary.
As difficult as all that may sound, many of our international classmates in the MBA program are dealing with very similar challenges. Some of them have left their families, friends, and even spouses and children back home for the pursuit of a world-class business education.
Something that I am proud of is being part of an MBA program that is very close-knit, collaborative, and fun. I’ve said it a hundred times, but last year was probably the best year of my life. When we have tailgates, themed parties, and cultural events, easily half of our program shows up. But what about the other half? What about those students who don’t enjoy going out to a crowded bar or a noisy tailgate? Unfortunately, many of the students missing from these events are our international students.
I’d like to challenge everyone reading this to work on making the Fisher College a more welcoming place for our international students. Look past the cultural differences and language barriers and realize that everyone is a human equal.
To the domestic students reading this, make an honest effort to connect with the international students, especially within your groups. Create an environment where questions, opposing opinions and asking for clarification is welcomed anytime. Instead of hanging out with the same twelve people every weekend, branch out a little. I’ve learned so much about the world around us by connecting with and hearing the experiences of many of the international students in our class. I even stayed with Claus’s family for a couple days when I was in Germany this summer for my internship (Thanks again Claus!). We are so lucky to have them in our program to learn from and grow with.
And to the international students out there, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone a little. Realize that getting an MBA is only partially about the education. Come out to the EOTWs and other events organized by our social committee. Don’t be afraid to speak up in your group meetings. If you don’t understand something, simply ask. We had some of the funniest conversations that drew us closer as a group from some of these questions last year. And ask us for help anytime, we’re more than willing to give it.
Unless you take a job with the World Bank or the United Nations, you’re never going to be in such a rich, diverse cultural environment. Make the most of it while you still can.
“People can only live fully by helping others to live. When you give life to friends you truly live. Cultures can only realize their further richness by honoring other traditions. And only by respecting natural life can humanity continue to exist.” - Daisaku Ikeda (Japanese peace activist and leader of Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International)